Parliamentary inquiry into record euthanasia submissions: 'note' response video

A petition by former MP Maryan Street and more than 8000 others called for euthanasia to be made illegal.

A petition by former MP Maryan Street and more than 8000 others called for euthanasia to be made illegal.

A Parliamentary investigation into euthanasia has detailed an overwhelmingly negative response by New Zealanders who took the time to submit, and delivered almost no recommendations, other than that MPs "note" it. 

But the inquiry was never intended to recommend a law change. Rather, it was designed to "investigate the views of New Zealanders". 

And despite 80 per cent of people who made their views known to MPs on the Health Select Committee opposing it, the report has been welcomed by pro-euthanasia campaigner ACT leader David Seymour - who has a bill before Parliament to make it legal under strict controls. 

Four MPs have tried to get Parliament to legalise voluntary euthanasia.

In a report delivered back to Parliament, from the committee, it detailed the arguments MPs heard over the issue as they undertook an inquiry that garnered a record 21,000 submissions. It also acknowledged a number of scientific polls that showed up to 75 per cent of New Zealanders were in favour of euthanasia. 

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Many who spoke to the committee talked of the "risk of coercion" and the concern that vulnerable elderly or disabled people might feel compelled to opt for euthanasia, if they felt they were a burden to their families. 

Many - both for and against - spoke of their own personal experiences of watching loved ones go through the final stages of a terminal illness. The committee also heard from experts right throughout the medical profession, academics, psychologists and healthcare workers. 

"Some submitters were concerned that disabled people would be pressured to choose assisted dying. However, several submitters who identified as disabled rejected this view, and argued that they should have the right to make end-of-life choices. 

"Many submitters questioned why anyone would let a loved one suffer a prolonged and undignified death when they would not allow the same for a family pet," the report said.  

Dignity was a major theme across submissions. 

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"Proponents often defined dignity on the basis of maintaining independence, and physical and mental capacity. There was a clear desire to maintain bodily functions and not become reliant on others.

"Submitters often spoke of not wishing to be a burden, either to family or society, and commented that to be a burden would lessen their own self-worth," the report said. 

Those in opposition to euthanasia however, said that argument undermined the idea of human dignity "by equating an individual's worth with their ability to contribute to society". 

The majority of people who supported a law change did so for reasons of choice and individual freedom. That was in contrast to many who believed the law was there to uphold the value of life. 

But most agreed, there was a clear line to cross before allowing someone to die became euthanasia. 

"There is general consensus that it is ethically and legally permissible to withdraw treatment at a patient's request or because treatment is not working. This is not euthanasia.

"Other arguments that predominated among those supporting a law change included the desire to not lose their abilities or a sense of self (41 per cent of those in favour), and the desire to not suffer (41 per cent of those in favour). Key arguments from those against included the dangers to vulnerable people (38 per cent of those opposed) and that modern palliative care is sufficient to treat suffering (31 per cent of those opposed)," the report said. 

Health Select Committee chair Simon O'Connor said it was "by far" the largest parliamentary investigation undertaken. It was a "complicated, divisive" issue. 

The committee's NZ First MPs delivered a minority view, that any potential law changes should be the subject of a public referendum. 

The committee encourage "everyone with an interest in the subject to read the report in full, and to draw their own conclusions based on the evidence presented in it".

Seymour said he welcomed the report, because it scotched "the mythology and the conspiracy theories" around euthanasia. 

"I think it's unfortunate that the report's recommendations are weak, but that shows we need a bill to be voted on in Parliament," he said. 

"The report acknowledges that there's no connection between suicide and assisted dying, the report acknowledges that there is no connection between weakening perceptions of doctors and assisted dying. 

"So in many respects that report is a good thing, because it trashes some of these conspiracy theories that we hear where people say only the most negative things about assisted dying that just aren't true." 

Seymour was now encouraging voters to lobby their MPs at the election to support euthanasia, as he began to work his own numbers to gain support for his bill. 

It was still uncertain whether Parliament would have the time to hear the bill on its first reading, before the House rose on August 17 for the General Election. 

 - Stuff

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